Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance


Sandoval County is in the process of amending its comprehensive zoning ordinance to deal with oil and gas extraction. This all started in November 2015 when SandRidge Energy Inc., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, applied for a special-use permit to drill near Rio Rancho city limits. Citizens groups pushed back and exposed Sandoval County’s lack of ordinances to protect water, roads, cultural resources, property values, and public health against oil and gas extraction.

An ordinance is a police power that the county implements to protect and promote its residents’ public health, safety, and general welfare. Sandoval County must adopt an oil and gas ordinance that guarantees aquifer protection, does not divide the county into drilling zones, ensures adequate public notice and input for all county residents before drilling occurs, requires adequate application information from oil and gas operators, has adequate road and emergency services provisions, integrates meaningful tribal consultation, protects cultural, archeological, recreational and wildlife areas; and much more.

In late 2017, the county appeared to lean heavily in favor of voting for a bad oil and gas ordinance.

How was this ordinance drafted?

In late August 2017, the Planning and Zoning Commission received an industry-written and friendly ordinance known as the ‘Stoddard Ordinance’, which had serious flaws. It called for drilling permits to be administered through permissive-use instead of special-use granting Planning and Zoning Director Mike Springfield sole authority to process and approve drilling permits within 10-days and eliminating the need for a public hearing or input. The ordinance also allowed for operational noise at higher levels than federal requirements, did not require water monitoring, imposed meager penalties on companies for violating laws, and allowed for wells to be drilled within 750 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, and houses.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted for and recommended the Stoddard Ordinance to the County Commission for consideration. However, in a surprise outcome at the December 14, 2017, County Commission meeting, the Stoddard Ordinance was voted down 4 – 1 vote.

In March 2018, the County Commission voted 4 – 1 to have a citizens working group (CWG) comprised of 11-voting members to develop an oil and gas ordinance that ensures aquifer source water, groundwater, and surface water protection; as well as include maximum citizen input and meaningful tribal consultation. The Commission approved the CWG Charter and voted for the ordinance process to go back to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

However, there are now 2 separate citizens working groups drafting an ordinance. One is the CWG Science Team, co-led by Planning and Zoning Commissioner Peter Adang and former Planning and Zoning chair John Arango, and the other is the CWG Ordinance Team, co-led by Mary Feldblum with Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

Once the County Commission officially receives a recommended draft, they too will hold public hearings and receive written and spoken comments, then vote to adopt an ordinance. But in a surprise turn of events at the November 29th meeting, the commission tabled the oil and gas ordinance issue for the year.

The county still needs an ordinance to protect against abuses and liabilities from companies that want to drill in Sandoval County.

Update 11/29/2018 – Nearly 200 people attended the Sandoval County Commission meeting on Nov. 29 expecting the commission to adopt an oil and gas ordinance that had serious flaws. By the time the agenda item to discuss oil and gas came up at the meeting, the commission did not have the second vote needed to advance the motion, which prevented a final vote. Since the motion failed, Chairman David Heil tabled the oil and gas ordinance for the year. For now, the process of applying for drilling permits reverts to the current “special use” permitting under the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Any drilling application received by the county must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for a public hearing and input. Then the Planning and Zoning Commission must make recommendations to the County Commission, where the application is subject to another public hearing and input before a decision is made by the County Commission.

Update 9/26/2018 – At the Aug. 28th Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the commissioners voted on a motion to recommend 3 oil and gas ordinances to the County Commission at the Sept. 25 P&Z meeting–the CWG Science Ordinance, the CWG Ordinance Team, and the Block Ordinance. In a surprise turn of events, the ‘Baseline Ordinance’ that was never voted on, passed a 4-2 recommendation vote to the County Commission. This ordinance was slipped in. The Commission also voted for the CWG Science Ordinance and decided not to recommend the ordinance by the CWG Ordinance Team, or County Commissioner Jay Block’s ordinance known called the Block Ordinance.

Update 8/21/2018 – In addition to the 2 ordinances drafted by the CWG Science Team and CWG Ordinance Team, there are 3 other ordinances, including one introduced by County Commissioner Jay Block. The most egregious aspect of these additional draft ordinances is the lack of public hearings when an oil and gas company applies for a permit, known as permissive-use. This means one sole staffer has the authority to approve drilling permits without Planning and Zoning Commission or County Commission oversight and without public or tribal input.

Update 7/12/2018 – The Sandoval County Commission held a joint work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission where the results of the New Mexico Tech Assessment were presented. The findings indicate that areas in the Albuquerque Basin are at higher risk and susceptibility for water contamination from fracking. The CWG Science Team presented its ordinance which divides the county into districts. The CWG Ordinance Team presented updates and Thrust Energy was allowed to have their geologist and hydrologist present their report which contradicted some of the science from New Mexico Tech and Don Phillips.

The Baseline Ordinance has serious flaws

The Baseline Ordinance, which is a revamped version of the Stoddard Ordinance, does not adequately offer aquifer protection, public health safeguards, and is absent of tribal consultation. It is extremely vague and divides the county into eastern and western areas with different permit approval processes. It allows for Planning and Zoning Director Mike Springfield to administer drilling permits on a ‘permissive use’ basis in the western part of the county that covers the San Juan Basin and is largely where rural and tribal communities live. Additionally, the Baseline Ordinance is absent of hazardous waste disposal requirements, does not require environmental compliance history information from oil and gas operators, allows drilling within 1,000 feet of sacred and cultural sites, and allows fracking throughout the entire county despite evidence and science that shows there are areas in the Albuquerque Basin that are highly susceptible to groundwater contamination.

Read more: what key provisions should be included in this oil and gas ordinance?

Read more: key differences between the CWG ordinances and the Baseline ordinance

Actions you can take

  1. Contact your County Commissioner
  2. Attend public meetings
  3. Comment at public meetings
  4. Email comments to PublicComment@sandovalcountynm.gov
  5. Write a letter to the editor
Click here for more details on actions you can take.

Additional Resources

The process for extracting oil and natural gas from shale rock uses an advanced technology called horizontal fracking (fracking), which combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing. A single well can be drilled to depths of up to 2-miles or more, requires millions of gallons of water, and uses hundreds of chemicals to make operational. Visit the links below for more information about the issues and impacts of fracking:

Fracking Threats to the Albuquerque Basin Aquifer (Donald Phillips Presentation)

Hydraulic Fracturing 101 (Earthworks)

The Social Costs of Fracking Report: A Pennsylvania Case Study (Food and Water Watch)

The Urgent Case for Ban on Fracking (Food and Water Watch)

Letters of support

Send a copy of your letters to Miya King-Flaherty

Link to google folder

Recent posts related to the Sandoval County Oil and Gas Issue

Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance Actions You Can Take

Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance Actions You Can Take

Sandoval County is amending its comprehensive zoning ordinance to address oil and gas extraction. Here are some actions concerned citizens can take ...
Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance

Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance

Sandoval County is amending its comprehensive zoning ordinance to address oil and gas extraction. The Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club is following this issue carefully ...
Sandoval County  oil and gas ordinance

Sandoval County oil and gas ordinance

Should Northwest Sandoval County families have weaker oil and gas safeguards than Rio Rancho residents? That’s what is proposed in a draft ordinance being considered by the county. Several drafts were never made public, but in mid-June a draft oil and gas ordinance was posted on the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission website. The draft divides the county into a “Northwest Energy Development Area” and a “Southeast Development Area.” The ordinance describes the Northwest area as including Counselor, La Jara, Regina, Torreon, Cabezon, La Cueva, San Luis, Gillman and Ponderosa, and different decision-making rules would apply to the two areas. According to the draft, applications for oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Northwest area would go through only an administrative review ...
Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance

Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance

Sandoval County has developed a new ordinance in the wake of last year’s outrage related to SandRidge’s proposal to drill for gas just 2 miles from Rio Rancho’s borders. Both Sandoval County and Rio Rancho are looking at oil-drilling proposals. Rio Rancho City Council had a work session on this issue. The video starts around 39:15. Sandoval County’s Planning and Zoning Committee has a meeting to finalize this ordinances at onTuesday, August 30. There is a follow-up meeting at on Tuesday, September 6 at the same location. These meetings will be held from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the Commission Chambers at the Sandoval County Administration Bldg, 1500 Idalia Road Building D, Bernalillo. The “fast-tracking” of these proposals around the Labor Day weekend ...
Photo of Sandoval County meeting

One threat removed, Sandoval remains vulnerable

By Mona Blaber The battle between the citizens of Sandoval County and oil and gas developers has seen many twists and turns in the past three months. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission initially appeared prepared to recommend to the county commission an application from financially troubled SandRidge Energy to drill an exploratory oil well just 2 miles outside of Rio Rancho. But after a surge of citizen activism, including thousands of messages to commissioners and hundreds of residents packing meetings, the zoning commission found SandRidge’s application didn’t meet existing zoning requirements. At its next meeting, the county commission was expected to deny the application and consider a moratorium on new drilling while it updated its ordinances to address oil ...
photo of oil drilling

Sandoval County Moratorium On Oil and Gas Drilling

If the Sandoval County Commission takes the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation at its February 18 hearing, it will deny a special-use permit for troubled Oklahoma oil company SandRidge Energy, which wanted to drill an exploratory fracking well just 2 miles from Rio Rancho city limits. But the next company that wants to drill in Sandoval isn’t going to make the same application mistakes or have the same shaky financial background as SandRidge, and Sandoval County may be forced to approve the next drilling application because it doesn’t have ordinances in place to address the hazards of oil and gas fracking. It is critical that the county impose a moratorium to allow time to develop ordinances that protect its residents from the ...
no fracking logo

Community groups applaud recommendation to deny SandRidge application

Community groups on Thursday welcomed the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation to deny an application by troubled Oklahoma corporation SandRidge Energy Inc. to drill an exploratory oil well, but the groups urged the county to adopt a moratorium on all oil and gas extraction until ordinances can be developed to protect community health, air, water and other resources from such operations. Hundreds of Sandoval County residents turned out to the two committee hearings on the topic, and more than 1,000 signed a petition opposing the special-use permit to drill in an area zoned residential. “While this is a positive signal that the county commission will reject this ill-advised request, more fracking applications are likely to come, and the ...
no fracking logo

Don’t let SandRidge frack in Sandoval County!

Julie Wilt, Sierra Club Central New Mexico chair What: Sandoval County Planning & Zoning Committee meeting to consider SandRidge Energy permit for fracking well near Rio Rancho
When: 6 p.m. January 28
Where: Commission Chambers, Sandoval County Administration Building, 1500 Idalia Road, Bernalillo
Act: Join our Sandoval County action team: riogrande.chapter@sierraclub.org Oklahoma-based SandRidge Energy Inc. has applied for a special-use permit to frack for oil in a residential zone just 2 miles from the Rio Rancho city limits. Please attend the January 28 county Planning and Zoning Committee meeting to ask the county to say NO to this risky operation so close to our homes. At the first Planning & Zoning meeting on this issue December 10, so many people showed up that the committee ordered a continuation of the ...
Sandoval County Oil & Gas Ordinance
Tagged on: